The Ministry of People’s Safety (MPS) recently began permitting North Koreans to register ownership of motorcycles under their own names, Daily NK has learned.
While private ownership of motorcycles was first permitted by North Korea in 2012, North Koreans had to register their motorcycles under the name of their workplace. This system made many North Koreans feel like they did not really own their two-wheeled vehicles.
Private ownership registration was previously only granted to traffic control officers and other government officials, such as post-office workers.
Motorcycles a “worthwhile investment”
Many North Koreans are delighted with the change in the motorcycle registration system. The donju, or North Korea’s nouveau riche, are actively involving themselves in businesses that require the use of motorcycles, multiple sources told Daily NK.
Oh Chong-song, a North Korean soldier who defected to South Korea via Panmunjom in 2017, remarked recently that wealthy men in North Korea generally ride motorcycles. This suggests that while they were more or less “just for show” a few years ago, they are now considered by many North Koreans as a necessity for certain business activities.
That may be why the high cost of motorcycles fail to deter North Koreans from purchasing them. Many people operating businesses believe that motorcycles are a worthwhile investment.
North Korea also has its own motorcycle brands, part of a broader trend in the country’s economy where more and more products are being manufactured locally.
The North Korean-made Taedong River motorbike, for example, currently sells for USD 1,100 at markets in Pyongsong. The most popular motorbike in North Korea, a 125cc model, is selling for USD 1,270, which is slightly more expensive than two years ago (USD 1,200). In contrast, the Chinese-made Yangyong motorbike is priced at around USD 850.
Registration fees encourage corruption
The move to allow ordinary North Koreans to register motorcycles in their own names is unusual, however, given that the North Korean state has long had strong restrictions on the vehicles, even reportedly banning them at one point.
Sources in North Korea suggest that government officials are using the opportunity of more people registering their motorcycles to collect bribes.
“I hear that officials at local police stations managing the registration process are earning a great deal of money,” another source in North Korea told Daily NK. “They have no qualms about demanding bribes to hand out license plates and permits.”
The source said that motorcycles themselves cost millions of North Korean won so owners are unhappy they have to shell out even more to get their vehicles registered.
“Some people know all too well, however, that they have to provide bribes to ensure quicker processing of their registration paperwork,” he added.
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